July 1, 2013 Courthouse News - Five government agencies will pay $1.2 million in legal fees after having to disclose documents on a controversial fingerprinting and deportation program, a rights group says. In April 2010, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and others sued the FBI, the Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Office of Legal Counsel and two other agencies seeking information about Secure Communities, or S-Comm.

The plaintiffs, which include the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said the "error-prone" system would be instituted nationwide "without sufficient transparency, oversight, or public engagement." Ostensibly developed to target criminals, the system was allegedly flush with immigrants whom authorities fingerprinted for minor traffic offenses to meet deportation quotas. The groups sought the information as ammunition for a campaign urging supporters to "End Secure Communities. Don't Mend It. Pledge to Break ICE's Hold on Your Community." U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin mandated disclosure of various aspects of the program five separate times since the filing of the lawsuit. In July 2012, she encouraged the government to "heed the words of Justice Louis Brandeis," who immortally wrote, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."

The parties then entered into eight months of negotiations that ended with a broad settlement Scheindlin approved in March. Disclosed documents give details about the so-called Next Generation Identification, or NGI, the FBI's plan for a multiagency database collecting DNA, a person's gait and iris scans, the plaintiff groups said. They announced Friday that the settlement carries $1.2 million in attorneys' fees. Mayer Brown LLP, the firm that represented the Cardozo school pro bono, donated its roughly $600,000 portion of the fee settlement to NDLON and the CCR.

Pablo Alvarado, the executive director of NDLON, said in a statement the documents prove that S-Comm was "built to be a deportation dragnet, not to make us safer." Sunita Patel of the Center for Constitutional Rights added that the "large award is a warning to government agencies" to answer their FOIA requests completely. "When asked for records the public is entitled to, agencies should opt for transparency rather than secrecy," Patel said in a statement. "In the three years of litigation, the agencies repeatedly stymied negotiations, lied about the availability of data and records, and failed to produce records in a timely manner, which ultimately only cost the government more in attorneys' fees."

The settlement agreement was not made immediately available on the court database. ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.